Longer power outages – how will you adjust?

Many of us have experienced power outages and learned valuable lessons over the years. I would think ‘I wish I had done A, B and C beforehand and wish I had X, Y and Z during’. Those thoughts always lead me to improve my prepping. I have also learned many lessons here.

As time went on I was better prepared for each power outage.

But as time has gone on (I have been prepping for +30 years) I have become pretty confidant that I can handle many outages because when a weather emergency that threatens power rolls in I think ‘been there, done that, know what to do’.

My plan for the future is based on my experience in the past. And as my experience grows and grows I develop a cognitive bias – each problem will be as I experienced it in the past.

This is a big problem for my planning and reaction to power outages because fixing power outages is going to take longer for many reasons:

  • The regional power grids are less able to substitue for the loss of power generators during bad weather because their are at full capacity now. Many coal generators have been shutdown and the systems have lost that extra capacity. Texas’ experience last winter is a good example but many regional systems are exposed to the same problem.
  • Spare parts are hard to find. Many utilities are warning that it will take longer to restore power during this hurricane season because they can’t get replacement transformers from the Pac Rim on a timely basis. This problem will be with us for a few years, at least. Some utilities are exploring repairing or rebuilding damaged transformers themselves in the meantime.
  • Staffing is becoming a bigger problem. I don’t mean the recent phenomenon of people staying home instead of working during COVID. For over 20 years it has become harder and harder to find people out of school that want to work outside with their hands. It’s made worse by the accelerating retirement of baby boomers.

I have been thinking about this a lot because this means my old assumptions don’t have the weight they used to have. Any my risk of being out of power has grown considerably; my wife’s health cannot tolerate cold or heat like she did.

Our house does not have a fireplace to put a wood stove. We use natural gas and if power goes out so does our furnace.

My solution is to install a 30k BTU natural gas heater on the wall like the one below. It is highly efficient and does not need a chimney. I used one of these 25 years ago and was very happy with it. You need a fresh air source – a cracked window – but they are really nice sources of heat when the power is out. And yes, I use CO2 detectors.


What are your thoughts about the changing reliability of our power grid and how will you plan and react?


  • Comments (12)

    • 3

      The power grid here has never exactly been what I would call reliable – outages of 3 to 5 days have been common throughout my life, and the longest lasted 17 days – but I agree it is only going to get worse, especially in rural areas, which are the last to be restored.

      Our biggest challenge would be the chest freezer.  Not just potential to lose whatever food was in it at the time but also if an outage went on for months or years, not being able to preserve food by what is arguably the best and easiest method currently available to us.  There are a number of reasons a large solar setup isn’t an option for us, and I have zero interest in running a generator long term, so I think this is basically just a risk we have to put up with.  The closest we’ve come to mitigating it is to can, dry, or ferment at least some of our harvest every year, just to stay in practice.  But that will be a poor substitute for the convenience of tossing things in the freezer.

      For the most part I like to lump prepping for a really long power outage in with prepping for TEOTWAWKI, because that makes it feel fun instead of like a boring chore.  If we could survive without it permanently, then we’ll be fine with out it for six months or a year or whatever, too 🙂  My friend has jokingly named this ABITWAWKI (A Break In The World As We Know It) because we would have to make serious adjustments to the way we live, but eventually things would return to normal. 

      • 2


        I agree the chest freezer is a big concern.

        Almost all outages I have experienced have been less than 8 hours and all was fine aside from some relatively minor discomfort and loss of internet.

        I experienced a 9 day outage in December in NE Pennsylvania about 15 years ago. I had a wood stove and coal stove, plenty of food, flashlights, lanterns and fuel so we were ok. My well was down so I had to drive 20 miles to get lots of water. But folks without wood or coal were on the firehouse floor for 9 days…and I want to avoid that in the future.

        The non-electric natural gas heater would make part of the house tolerable in the dead of winter. I have a few hundred gallons of water and food so we would not be hungry or thirsty. I also have a battery powered ‘construction’ fan to circulate the heat to prevent water pipes from freezing. I need a few extra 40v batteries.

        Cooking: I will buy 2 more 20# propane tanks for my grill but my primary cooking plan will be a fire ring with 1/4 cord of firewood and a rocket stove. I would like to buy a 100# propane tank but need to learn how to properly regulate the flow to my grill.

        Comms: This is very important to me because I recently started working at home. I need to talk to my ISP about their planning and capacity to keep their POPs running on diesel – and for how long. I am also looking hard at installing a StarLink system as a secondary connection. My planning assumes my employer’s primary site is operational about 150 miles away.

        Telephony: If local cell towers are running on diesel backup for the duration I am good, but if they go down then the only solution is to setup a Yagi antenna and hope I can pull a link from further away.

        But back to your point about the chest freezer; the only solution to loss of food (refrigerator and chest freezer) is a generator with several days fuel. I will also very likely need the genny for comms.

        The choice of a generator has to be based on the electric outage I am expecting. Is it local or regional? If I plan for a local outage I can drive 50 miles for gasoline regularly but if it’s regional (200 mile radius) I have to store more or plan to cook all my meat. I live in town so I cannot store significant gasoline but I could store much for diesel…

      • 4

        It’s the potential for regional power outages I’m concerned about for the freezer. 

        In a local outage the simplest solution is generally to move the food and/or whole freezer to somewhere that has electricity. 

        So far we have lucked out every time – either my parent’s place eight miles away has power, the freezer is at it’s lowest getting ready for a clean out anyway, or the outside temperature is cold enough to use the screen porch as a deep freeze – though it’s debatable how “lucky” that last one is!  A family member also owns a business in the commercial district of a city about an hour away, which so far (there’s that phrase again, though!) has always been restored fairly quickly, so in most prolonged power outages effecting our rural county, we could move frozen stuff there for the duration if necessary. 

        But if the city lost power for a long time too, we would not only lose the option of storing frozen food there, but I don’t much like our odds of being able to obtain gasoline or refill propane tanks, either, and then it’s bye bye freezer food 🙁

        I think I’ve more or less come to terms with this possibility though.  I hate food waste because of the resources that went into obtaining it, but driving back and forth hundreds of miles to get gas – or for that matter buying and maintaining a generator itself when there’s only one thing we need it for – would be more wasteful of resources in the big picture, even if it might not irk me to the same degree as losing a freezer full of venison would.

        The bottom line is, no one has ever died of freezer failure.  

        It’s more important to focus on things like keeping everyone warm or cool, hydrated, fed, maintaining a reasonable level of hygiene, et cetera.

        BTW I think if you can’t have a woodstove the gas heater is a great idea, as long as you always have fresh batteries for the monoxide detectors. 

        Another thing you might consider as a backup to the backup, are hot water bottles – I recommend at least two per person.  They stay hot a surprisingly long time, and a quick excursion outdoors to heat water on a grill or open fire is very worth it for several hours of keeping cozy under blankets indoors, one bottle on the feet and one on the chest.  They’re great for winter camping trips, too!

      • 2

        I love my hot water bottle during the cold months and wrote a whole post about it.

      • 1

        Let me add that if a power outage occurs and is prolonged by equipment shortages it will probably be regional. A relatively small, localized outage will not stress parts inventories as much but in a rural area YMMV.

        If instead of a blackout we were exposed to rolling blackouts due to inadequate power generation, for whatever reason, the equipment listed above may be worth it’s weight in gold.

    • 2

      I have adapted my preps not only because of the reliability of the power grid but also because of the extreme weather patterns that we now see.  I built my house with two wood burning fireplaces and a large whole house generator that runs on natural gas.  Sounds good but it gives me little flexibility.  Case in point, this past winter my 100 year old mother in law, who still lives in her home in Memphis (with 24 hour care givers), experienced 3 multi day power outages.  Luckily I had already adjusted my preps to help her.

      I had just recently purchased a 7500 watt, somewhat portable, dual fuel generator and all the associated power cords & gear to provide critical power to her house.  I say somewhat portable in that you can relatively easily roll it around but it is too heavy for one person to lift into my pickup.  I solved that issue by using straps on the loader bucket on my tractor to load it into the back of my pickup & just backed my truck into her garage and ran the generator from there.  She has gas logs in her den, so we stayed in there.  The generator powered refrigerator/freezer, some appliances, some lights and some electric heaters.  After the first outage, I quickly noticed a problem.  I prefer not to run a generator 24 hours a day and like to shut it down at night.  Problem was, the gas logs couldn’t keep the room warm by themselves.  So right after that event, I purchased the portable version of your Mr. Heater LP gas heater plus six 40 gallon LP tanks. 

      The next outage, a few weeks later, went much better.  We shut off her gas logs & ran the portable heater 24 hours a day.  What an amazing heater.  Even at a medium heat setting, it only ran maybe 20 minutes out of every hour and keep us very warm.  Somehow the heat was very uniform throughout the whole den & dining room.  What an amazing product.  With all that LP gas, I could run that heater for weeks.

      So I suggest preppers add as much flexibility into your preps & plans because you just might need your resources elsewhere.

      generator outside all

      4 recep



      • 1


        Did you have any reliability problems with your genny? Gasoline & propane?

        Did you need to modify the regulator for your propane heater when you used the 40# tanks? I ask because my grill manufacturer says to only use 20# tanks and yet I ran our propane kitchen stove  and 30k BTU Mr. Heater on a  100# tank without a problem.

        The Mr. Heater I am going to buy comes with a wall mount and the floor feet for flexibility.

        I will also buy 2 window AC units at the end of the season.

      • 4

        This generator has run perfectly except I had issues running it on LP gas when below freezing.  I believe the problem is the LP gas sold down here… not the generator.  It runs fine on LP gas when above freezing.  No big deal, that is the advantage of a dual fuel model.  I simply switched over to gasoline and never had another issue.  In hind sight now, during cold weather, I think it best to run the generator on gasoline & to save the LP gas for the heater.

        No, I didn’t modify anything.  A 40# tank works exactly the same as 20#.  I prefer having the larger 40# tanks even though they are heavier.  I am of the opinion every prepper should have one of these heaters.  They are that good!  Having some electricity during an outage is sure nice and makes a bad situation bearable.  Little things like being able to use the coffee maker can make a surprising difference in your mood.  A generator can save you lots of money by not having to throw out all the food in your refrigerators & freezers.  That being said, during an outage in very cold weather, nothing is more important than staying warm.  One of these heaters with a few tanks of LP gas is not overly expensive and can keep a large area warm 24 hours a day for an extended period.

        This is some figuring I did last winter when using the heater.  A 30,000 BTU heater can run for around 3 hours on a gallon of LP gas. My 40 pound tanks holds 9.4 gallons of gas each. With the heater running nonstop, one of my 40 pound tanks should last a bit over a day. The heater doesn’t run nonstop… it has a thermostat.   Let’s say the heater runs 15 minutes each hour but I think it was even less than that. That means this heater should run for over 4 days on a single tank.

      • 1


        Did you keep the 40# tank in the house or somehow run it outside?

      • 1

        For the heater, the tank was in the house about 4-5′ away.

    • 1

      Great topic, Shaun.  I’ve got bias as well because we experienced only a couple outages in 20+ years and they have lasted only a few hours.  And you are right that past performance is not going to continue.

      I am impressed with your preps for your MIL, Redneck. (now and in your previous posts about them). I am storing propane since it doesn’t go bad like gasoline (or correct my understanding there) and can then do both generator and heater (I have a Mr. Heater Big Buddy).  Only 20lb tanks due to storage location and larger ones are too heavy to handle full.  I hope to add batteries to our solar system to help alleviate the need for generator – neither are purchased yet.  

      I could use wood in our fireplace that has gas and ceramic logs, but storing it outside is an issue for wildfires, but then so is storing all that propane.  Hmmmm……

    • 2

      We have diversified our cooking and heating to the point where we can cook and heat with either electricity, 45 kilo bottles of LPG, wood or other solid fuel such as coal. 

      There would be plenty of inconveniences without power but it wouldn’t kill us.